Tag Archives: quiet

Embracing times of stillness helps combat a noisy world

foggy morning, Ohio's Amish country

Morning stillness.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I couldn’t help but notice the timing. In less than 24 hours, I received two separate emails about creating a time of stillness.

The first was a daily devotional that I receive from a noted seminary. The title was “A Call to Stillness.” The second notice came from my church’s worship coordinating group announcing the inclusion of a time of silence and reflection in our weekly church service.

I was glad for both. Over the years, I have learned to embrace stillness as a welcomed respite from the world’s noisiness.

autumn sunset

Quiet beauty.

Even in my semi-retirement, I find extended times of personal quiet elusive. Living in a house built on an Amish farm is no guarantee of escaping worldly sounds.

I especially need a basic semblance of silence when I write. Extraneous, everyday sounds distract me. Take a log truck rumbling down Number 10 Hill, the colloquial name of the flattop knoll south of our house, jake brake baffling its hideous reverberation that echoes across the countryside and rattles the dishes in our china cabinet.

Even the tick, tick, tick of a clock can break my concentration. And yet, my wife can’t seem to get my attention if I’m watching a baseball game on TV.

That said a time of silence, in general, is a good idea for everyone no matter the situation. Taking a periodic quiet break has its just rewards.

fox squirrel

Fox squirrel.

In fact, I’ve tried to use those raucous interruptions as a reminder to sit back, relax, take a deep breath, and just listen. Or I reposition myself to the shade of my back porch where I can see five miles to the north.

If I sit still and quiet, I’m often amazed at what transpires all around me. A white-breasted nuthatch and a Carolina chickadee will chase each other around a bird feeder a few feet away. A fox squirrel, its bushy tail as long as its body, sits on its haunches munching on sunflower seeds unaware of my presence.

At the summit of the hilltop pasture behind our home, buggy horses and workhorses gather around the neighbor’s windmill. The horses’ tales swish in a natural, spontaneous syncopation. The early fall clouds drift by in the azure sky as silently as this precious moment.

For a man who over the years has been accused of liking to hear himself talk, I have learned not to be afraid of silence. In fact, I embrace it.

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I enjoy a leisurely walk in the woods, alone, binoculars and camera in tow, alert for whatever finds me next. If I’m noisy, I’ll likely miss a lot. Being quiet and reverent allows all of my senses to spark my imagination, fill my heart, stir my soul, warm my spirit, ignite my creativity, announce my gratitude for this incredible life and opportunities presented.

In this busy, busy world of ours, I need a time of stillness now and then. Such a time awakens me, invigorates me, enthralls me, heals me. Quietness opens me to new possibilities, new ideas, new knowledge, renewed life.

I read again that inspiring devotion written about Psalm 46, verse 10, “Be still and know that I am God.” With a blessed assurance, that reminder helps me to keep my focus on the essential tasks at hand.

I was glad for those back-to-back email reminders of the importance of stillness. Here’s hoping we all find the silence that we need in our all too busy and noisy lives.

countryside, Amish buggy

Peaceful surroundings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Why I liked summer nights, and why I still do

Amish girls, Amish cart, Ohio's Amish county

Up the long lane. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 60s, I loved summer nights.

Let me be clear that the foremost reason for my affection for summer was that school was out. But it was so much more than that, and still is.

Sure, summer days filled with warm temperatures, fluffy white clouds sailing by and gaggles of my peers running loose made for riotous times. We’d play ball, ride bikes, and explore for hours on end along the little creek that snaked through a woods down over the hill from our brick bungalow.

However, we knew when to come home for lunch and supper, or we wouldn’t eat. It was that simple.

It was a crazy, wonderful era to grow up. Times were changing. Right after supper, we watched the world unfold before us on the nightly news on black and white television. I had trouble reconciling what I saw then with what I had seen just before dinner on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Sputnik

Sputnik.

That might have something to do with why I enjoyed and enjoy summer nights so much. Things got quieter after 10 p.m. or so. The noises of life subsided. I escaped into the refreshing darkness, unafraid, in awe of creation, and in search of anything that moved in the sparkling sky.

Since we were on summer vacation from school, my siblings and I were permitted to stay up later. I loved the evening’s coolness, a respite from the daytime heat and humidity. The nighttime air was our air conditioning.

I took full advantage of those cooler opportunities. I loved to view the night sky. Streetlights were scarce in our neighborhood then, allowing us actually to see the constellations and the countless stars.

My folks must have noticed that interest, too. I got a telescope, and that allowed me to examine the heavenly hosts up close. It was the beginning of the space age, and once I even was able to follow Sputnik, the first-ever man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union.

Sputnik, headlines

Headlines announcing Sputnik’s launch.

Satellites were still so novel that newspapers published the time and flight path of their orbits. When I saw Sputnik, I couldn’t believe its simplicity, a round ball with four protruding antennae.

I liked simpler, natural things, too, like fireflies, the flash of heat lightning in distant storms, an owl hooting. Most of all, I embraced the solitude that summer nights afforded.

Here I am decades later, a grandfather instead of a grandson. I still love the quietness of early summer nights, before the crickets and katydids begin their concerts.

half moon

Half moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Living here in the country, I lie awake at night listening to distant sounds far from our home, dogs barking, horses whinnying, and jetliners cruising high overhead. It’s that calm. If I’m fortunate, a Whippoorwill will wake me from my daze, or a pair of coyotes will howl from the hilltop behind our home.

An American Robin will startle me awake long before dawn, perhaps herself startled from her nest. Was it a cat, a flying squirrel, an owl, or did one of her babies grow restless and try an early morning fledgling flight?

I still like the nights before the crickets start choir practice. I still prefer summer’s air conditioning to artificial. I am most appreciative that lightning bugs don’t crackle when they blink.

But wouldn’t it be neat if they did?

sliver moon, planets, night sky

Night sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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All quiet on the home front

quietsunrisebybrucestambaugh

A spectacular sunrise on the “quiet” morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We live in a frazzled world, full of hustle and bustle and lots of noise. Even in the country, the noise of a busy world drowns out the normal peace and quiet.

Of course there are people that seem to prefer noise. They’re the ones that can’t stand a natural lull in a conversation, or dead silence in a room full of people, so they feel obliged to fill the air with idle chitchat. They’re happy as long as someone is talking, even if it’s them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit long winded at times myself. But having lived in rural America all these years, I’ll take peace and quiet every time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy music, though I’m no musician. I enjoy cheering for my favorite sports teams. I enjoy lively table talk, especially around a meal.

But age has a way of shushing you, quietly encouraging you to embrace the silence. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in absolute quietness, whether I’m home alone or with a congregation of contemplators.

quietbarnbybrucestambaugh

The normally bustling barn was even quiet.

Silence is good. I was reminded of that recently. Since it was a Sunday morning, the traffic on our busy county highway was minimal. In fact, only one car and one horse and buggy passed me on my regular two-mile stroll.

Normally I dodge construction trucks, straight bed trucks, semis, cars, bicycles, and several horse and buggies. This day was astonishingly different.

Less traffic meant less noise. And less noise meant the few sounds that I did hear really, really stood out. I heard a motorcycle accelerating far off in the distance, and a horse clopping on the county road a half-mile from where I was walking.

It was at that point that I stopped and realized the full breadth and depth of the stillness around me. The compressor from the neighbor’s barn wasn’t running. No cows were mooing. Not even a bird so much as chirped.

For a minute I thought the rapture had come, and I figured I had indeed been left behind. I smiled at the idea, and continued my lonely, but not lonesome walk.

quietstreambybrucestambaugh

A quiet stream.

Walking affords me more than physical exercise. It clears my mind, fills my body with bountiful goodness, and sharpens my senses. Even my age-diminished hearing seemed more keen. I could hear crickets and the last of the season’s katydids singing in the tree-lined stream that meandered through the crops and pasturelands.

On the return trip home, I fully embraced the quietness. I felt richer, fuller, and more alive, all because of hearing nothing at all. I was reminded of the importance of listening, of paying attention, of appreciating the good earth of which we have been assigned to nurture.

Our world is filled with too much noise. Televisions and radios blast away with the talking heads, stirring up people when life’s recipe says to let the sauce simmer.

Even from my countryside home, I see too many people with cell phones pressed to their ears while driving their cars, or cords from ear buds leading to a denim pocket of a passing biker.

That Sunday morning walk instilled in me just how important a little quietness is in our clamorous world. That silent experience said stillness is more than golden. It is a priceless pearl to the soul.

I’m glad I’ve come to appreciate the quality and value of silence. Please kindly remind me of that next time I start to ramble.

quietschoolbybrucestambaugh

The Amish schoolhouse stood quiet in the morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Taking time to really see

Marblehead Lighthouse by Bruce Stambaugh

Clouds sail by the historic Marblehead Lighthouse at Marblehead, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after my favorite resort town, Lakeside, Ohio, ended its gated season, which was Labor Day, I began to see the place in a different light.

Like Cinderella’s carriage, the town had transformed into its natural state overnight. Streets that had bustled for weeks with pedestrians, bicycles, golf carts and motorized vehicles suddenly became quiet. Lakeside’s population had dropped faster than the stock market.

Cottages that had housed happy families all summer were now boarded up for the winter. Businesses once crowded with customers were also shuttered for the season.

Lakeside signs by Bruce Stambaugh

Maintenance workers gathered up traffic signs used during the gated season.

Maintenance crews made their rounds undoing what they had worked so hard to ready three short months ago. They picked up the traffic and parking signs needed to control the passage on the narrow streets with limited parking.

The workers seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. Perhaps sensing the newfound quietness themselves, they soberly went about their business, the crackling of their portable radios occasionally breaking the hushed spell.

Their pace could have been from the day’s extraordinary heat as much as it was lack of ambition. The land wind wasn’t much help, blocked by the combination of the southerly rise of the peninsula itself, the town’s closely packed cottages and buildings and the giant hardwoods that overshadowed everything.

Fishing at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

Fishing off the dock at Lakeside, Ohio is a popular pastime.

The only relief, if there was any to be had, could be on the dock, which protrudes a football field length into Lake Erie. Normally crowded with sun worshippers, fishermen, and people just wanting to soak in the scene, I nearly had the cement pier to myself.

The afternoon sun blazed away, and the wind was fierce, but cooler than in town thanks to the lake. I faced my folding chair east away from the wind. I was glad I had.

Freighter at Marblehead, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

A freighter took on stone at Marblehead, Ohio.

I had taken both camera and binoculars to while away the time. I enjoyed just scanning the broad horizon that stretched from the islands to Marblehead, where a huge freighter was moored at the stone quarry.

The strong westerly wind whipped the waves furiously. Anchored fishing boats bobbed like fishing line bobbers.

Ring-billed seagulls found security from the wind in the lee of the dock. One played King on the Hill. It had landed on a slightly submerged rock, and lorded it over all the other gulls that floated in the choppy water.

Osprey over Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

An Osprey sailed over the dock at Lakeside, Ohio.

High above, another bird caught my eye. An osprey sailed with the wind, searching the shallow waters near the shore for unsuspecting fish. Its mate soon joined the hunt. They circled and hovered but always wind-driven east were soon out of view even with binoculars.

I put the glasses down and quickly noticed smaller, streamlined birds dive-bombing the water. They zigged-zagged and glided, then rose up and hurled themselves into the lake like rocks, but only for a few seconds. The small flock of migrating Common and Forster’s Terns put on quite a show in filling up for the long journey south.

Suddenly the stack of the freighter let loose sooty puffs of diesel smoke. It had taken on its load and was ready to sail. Even though I was upwind and a mile away, I could hear the huge, powerful props churn the water as the massive boat slipped away.

Common Tern at Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

A Forster's Tern readied to plunge into the lake at Lakeside, Ohio.

In less than 20 minutes, it had turned northeast for deeper water, destination unknown to me. I, however, knew mine. I returned to our hospitality house for dinner, glad I had taken the time to observe Lakeside in a slower, even more peaceful mode than usual.

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